It has been 20 years since Priya Nair joined the ranks of the Rs 30,805-crore FMCG giant Hindustan Unilever (HUL). She cut her teeth in the organisation as a management trainee. The 43-year-old has been groomed by stalwarts like Nitin Paranjpe and Harish Manwani. Indeed, it is evident that Nair has been a great student and has learnt the importance of building a socially relevant business from her mentors.
Nair, who made it to the management committee of the FMCG company just last year, says that the game changer for her has been the shift from an operational to a more strategic leadership role. "You are in an incredible position to make a difference within the organisation as well as business and community," she says. Nair is now heading the home care division of HUL, the largest revenue churning arm of the company.
So, how is Nair making a difference? While offering her consumers the best possible products is indeed top priority, what actually makes a difference, according to Nair, is that most of her brands create a positive impact on the society at large. "Those are the brands that consumers actually value," she says.
"There is a defi nite science behind premiumisation while recruiting new consumers... Priya has certainly got it right as a large category leader" Devendra Chawla, Group President (Food, FMCG & Brands), Future Group
Co-founder, Gecko BiomedicalShe cites the example of Rin Career Academy, an initiative the company has launched to promote Rin detergent. Here, the detergent brand has partnered with British Council to offer soft skill training programmes to its consumers. The academy aims to inspire, educate and equip youth with livelihood skills to pursue 21st century careers, boosting the brand visibility of Rin in the process. Kan Khajura Tesan, the mobile radio service through which HUL reaches out to its consumers in media-dark areas (beyond the reach of television), was also an initiative that Nair had spearheaded.
A large part of HUL's revenue comes from the rural markets. With consumption dipping in these markets, Nair does admit that there has been some down-trading in terms of product usage. But at a time when affordability is an issue, she says the decision to select a brand is often made on the basis of the value it offers. "If you want deep loyalty and conviction from consumers, you need to have a brand that is relevant and matters to them. In such a case, she is also willing to pay a premium for it."
Nair is confident that even in a lacklustre market, a consumer's sense of value is not necessarily driven by price. It's more to do with the benefit that they are seeking at a certain price and it means that consumers are even open to upgrade. That's where her strategy of premiumisation gathers importance.
So, in the rain-starved Latur region of Maharashtra, the biggest challenge is clean drinking water. Will the average consumer be able to afford HUL's water purifier brand, Pureit, by paying upwards of Rs 2,000? Unlikely. But Nair claims she is educating potential customers about the importance of pure drinking water and is offering them easy instalments to buy one by partnering with microfinance companies.
She is even in the process of developing and testing detergents that promise to reduce the usage of water. A specialised product such as this will surely come at a premium but Nair is confident that Indian consumers, when educated about it, will definitely spend on the product.
"There is a definite science behind premiumisation while recruiting new consumers in the category. Priya and her team have certainly got it right as a large category leader," says Devendra Chawla, Group President (Food, FMCG and Brands), Future Group.
So, where does Nair get most of her consumer insights from? The fact that the Indian consumers - especially women - are aspirational and want the best, comes out loud and clear in the endless hours of soap-opera content that the Indian broadcast industry churns out, she says. Indeed, Nair regularly watches television serials, which she says helps her to connect well with consumers. "There is a show called Diya Aur Bati Hum (on Star Plus) and you can't imagine how much women in interior villages talk about it. It's not a typical Saas Bahu saga and it sharply reflects how the role of a woman in a modern Indian family is changing. We are trying to bring those elements in our advertising too."
HUL's home care business contributes over 45 per cent of the company's revenue. So, what's next for Nair? She says there is lots to do. "I handle an incredible business which has parts that are quite matured, but it also has segments of the future like Pureit, which still has a lot of scope for penetration. In a country like ours there is always scope for growth."